US and Russian defense ministers speak for first time in over a year

Pentagon and Russia give differing accounts of the call between Austin and Belousov

by Faruk Imamovic
US and Russian defense ministers speak for first time in over a year
© Getty Images/Andrew Harnik

The defense ministers of the United States and Russia spoke by phone on Tuesday for the first time in more than a year, and the two sides gave very different accounts of the conversation afterward.

The Pentagon said that US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Russian counterpart Andrei Belousov discussed the importance of open lines of communication.

Austin initiated the conversation and it was the first such call since March 2023, Pentagon spokesman Patrick Ryder told reporters, Hina reports, citing Reuters.

The danger of further escalation

The Russian Defense Ministry said Belousov had warned Austin about the dangers of continued US arms shipments to Ukraine in its 28-month conflict with Russia.

"A.R. Belousov pointed to the danger of further escalating the situation through continued supplies of American weapons to the Ukrainian armed forces," the ministry statement said on the Telegram messaging app after the call, reports REUTERS.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine plunged Moscow's relations with Washington to the lowest level since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

In the latest in a long line of accusations, Moscow last weekend said the United States was responsible for Ukraine's attack on the Russian-annexed Crimean peninsula with five US-supplied missiles that killed four people.

Pentagon: Ukraine determines its military targets

Pentagon sources said Ukraine is targeting itself after the Kremlin directly blamed the United States for the attack on Crimea, which it says was carried out by US-supplied ATACMS missiles and killed at least four and injured 151 people. .

The war in Ukraine has sparked the most tension between Russia and the West since the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, and Russian officials say the conflict is entering its most dangerous phase of escalation yet.

Directly accusing the US of the bloodshed in Crimea, which Russia annexed in 2014 and owns even though most of the world considers it part of Ukraine, is a step further.

"Ukraine makes its own targeting decisions and conducts its own military operations," Major Charlie Dietz, a Pentagon spokesperson, said.

A spokesman for the White House National Security Council said any loss of civilian life is a tragedy.

"That certainly includes the thousands of innocent Ukrainians who have been killed by Russian forces since this Russian war of aggression began," the spokesperson said.

Pentagon: Ukraine determines its military targets
Pentagon: Ukraine determines its military targets© Getty Images/Alex Wong

Moscow accuses the US of attacking Crimea, threatens to respond

At least two children were killed in an attack on Sevastopol on Sunday, according to Russian officials. The video shows people running away from the beach near Sevastopol, while the injured are carried away on deckchairs. 

Russia claims that the Ukrainian attack on Sevastopol in Crimea was carried out by ATACMS missiles, which Washington supplied to Kiev.

Russia's Defense Ministry has accused the United States of being responsible for Sunday's missile attack on civilians in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, a peninsula Russia annexed in 2014, allegedly by ATACMS missiles, which Washington supplied to Kiev.

“All flight missions for the American ATACMS operational-tactical missiles are entered by American specialists based on U.S.’ own satellite reconnaissance data,” the ministry said in a statement. “Therefore, responsibility for the deliberate missile attack on civilians in Sevastopol lies primarily with Washington, which supplied these weapons to Ukraine, as well as the Kyiv regime, from whose territory this attack was launched.”

Russia summoned US Ambassador Lynne Tracy to the Department of Foreign Affairs, where she faced accusations that Washington "waged a hybrid war against Russia and has become a party to the conflict".

Tracy was threatened that the attack "will not go unpunished".

"Retaliatory measures will definitely follow.," they assured.

Three people dead

In a rocket attack on Sevastopol, three people were killed, including two children, and around a hundred were wounded, said local governor Mihail Razvozayev, who was appointed by Moscow.

In April, Washington announced that it had sent ATACMS missiles to Ukraine. Kiev has been asking the West for them for a long time to be able to carry out attacks further behind the front line.

In October, Ukraine used American ATACMS missiles against Russia for the first time, but the ones recently sent to it have a longer range - up to 300 kilometers.

The governor declared Monday a day of mourning in the city and said he has been visiting the injured in the hospitals. Russian President Vladimir Putin called him immediately after the attack and expressed his condolences to the families of the victims, Razvozhayev added.

The governor accused Kyiv authorities of striking “on the sly” at a time when many residents were returning from church and the celebrations of the Orthodox holiday of Holy Trinity or were on the beach with their children.

Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova has called the attack “an act of terrorism” carried out with U.S. weapons that should be condemned by the United Nations. Moscow-appointed head of Crimea, Sergei Aksyonov, said the incident was “a barbaric, unscrupulous terrorist attack.”